b Papa Dog's Blog: Pe-ter Rab-bit

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pe-ter Rab-bit

Baby Dog’s unlikely new favourite book is The Tale of Peter Rabbit. If you don’t know why I say it’s unlikely, perhaps you haven’t read it recently. Children’s books from the nineteenth century – well, fin de siècle before last – are a very different thing from children’s books nowadays. They have teeny tiny little pictures with muted colours and lots of charming but extraneous details, and they make use of a much wider swath of the English language than seems available in the children’s literature of today. I certainly would never have predicted that Baby Dog would sit still listening to sentences like “Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.” I mean, jesus, never mind the vocabulary, even – how many semi-colons do you see in a SpongeBob book? For whatever reason, though, Baby Dog has fixated on this book like no other the last couple of weeks. She wakes up at morning, chanting “Pe-ter Rab-bit? Pe-ter Rab-bit?” She’s down for her nap right now, with the afternoon still ahead, and I’ve already read her the book five times today. She loves her some Beatrix.

The last couple of nights, I’ve made use of her lapinary fixation to coax her at dinnertime. She’s been a balky eater ever since the bout with croup, but she can still be distracted into taking food. My method is to tell her the story of Peter Rabbit as best I can remember it and as mesmerically as I can manage. She sits gazing wide-eyed at me in the highchair, and when a particularly dramatic moment comes, I slip a spoonful of broccoli rabe past her perimeter defences. She doesn’t even notice she’s being fed until the food’s already swallowed. What I found particularly remarkable about this process is that she remembers the particulars of the book at least as well as I do. When I say “Mrs. Rabbit said to run along and not get into any mischief because she was going out,” Baby Dog observes “Basket!” because that’s what Mrs. Rabbit takes with her to the baker’s. When I say “And then Peter got tangled up in a gooseberry net, whatever that is,” she says, “Blue jacket! Buttons!” because it was indeed the big brass buttons on his quite new blue jacket that got him tangled in the gooseberry net. Whatever that is. Mama Dog was particularly impressed when I told Baby Dog the bit about the imploring sparrows, and Baby Dog said “Sieve!” because that’s what was coming next – Mr. McGregor attempting to plop a sieve on top of Peter. I’m pretty sure Baby Dog has no clue what a sieve is – the picture’s not really explicit enough for her to pick it out of a line-up – but she’s memorised the word, and the moment when it appears in the story.

The little girl continues to astound. I have the uneasy feeling I’m going to be reading her Proust by summer time. (If I can find a pop-up edition of Remembrance of Things Past.)


Anonymous Mama Dog Duvalier said...

Or maybe a "scratch-n-sniff" version of same: Can't you just smell those freshly-baked madeleine cookies now?

4:03 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I do believe you are about to find a strong desire to go back to school just to keep up with her!

6:35 PM  

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